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Shopping in nature

Written by  Nikki van Coller
| in Tuin
| July 7, 2015

As dry and desolate as the West Coast is in summer, after the first winter rains it starts transforming into a bright landscape of colour and texture, and surprisingly – an indigenous bounty of edible plants.

Hunting and gathering is undoubtedly as old as mankind, and the San people, believed to be the original human inhabitants of sub-Saharan Africa, are thought to have walked the West Coast and Namaqua regions as long as 20 000 years ago.

The San were hunter-gatherers, with the men responsible for hunting and fishing, while the women did most of the gathering of edible bulbs, roots, leaves, fruits and berries.  Even back then, the now-popular Hoodia Gordonii was chewed by men on hunting expeditions to suppress their appetites.

“As dry and desolate as the West Coast is in summer, after the first winter rains it starts transforming into a bright landscape of colour...”

In recent years “foraging” has become somewhat of a buzzword, with foodies and earthy types searching high and low for ingredients, including mushrooms, truffles, wild herbs, seafood and other food that can be found freely in nature.

The Plaastoe! team joined Pasella’s garden guru Willie Schmidt on a foraging adventure in the West Coast, learning which plants are edible, where to find them, how to identify them and of course how to prepare them or incorporate them into a delicious meal.


Our foraging trip was based in Jacobsbaai and we were lucky enough to spend two fantastic nights at Willie’s house and be treated to the famous West Coast hospitality. On each of the days we were there, Willie took us around his garden and the surrounding veld, where we learnt to identify a number of edible plants, tasted them, gathered ingredients, and made scrumptious meals using some of our findings.

Veldkool (Trachyanddra ciliate)

Julie-2015-tuin-1Veldkool is a wild asparagus-type plant with edible shoots that have a very earthy taste. Because it likes course sandy soil, it thrives in the West Coast region and can be spotted quite easily, once you know what to look for. The stalks can be steamed or boiled, pickled or cooked in a stew or bredie.  The scientific name is Trachyanddra ciliate, but Veldkool is also known as Cape spinach, field cabbage and Hotnotskool.  

Identifying features:  A small flower,  white or pinkish petals, and a darker pink stripe down the centre, hairy leaves and buds that fold in a longitudinal manner.

TIP: If using veldkool, remove the stalks and let them lie in salt water for about 10 minutes or so. This helps to ensure there are no insects going into your meal. After 10 minutes, rinse very well and squeeze out excess water before cooking.

Suurvygies (Carpobrotus Edulis)

Julie-2015-tuin-2These are indigenous to the West Coast and grow abundantly. Suurvygies have a sour-ish flavour and can be dried out, or used to make jams and preserves, or in stews and bredies. They are extremely easy to propagate. Simply snip a piece off and stick it about 3cm into the ground. They require very little watering or maintenance once established.
Identifying features:  A robust, trailing perennial, with succulent stems that curve upwards from the growing point. The leaves are succulent and tri-angled, while flowers fade from bright yellow to a pale pinkish colour.

Skilpadbessie (Nylandtia spinosa)

Julie-2015-tuin-3The fruits of the plant are edible and enjoyed by birds and tortoises. Humans are rediscovering this tasty berry, which can be used in salads and desserts or eaten straight off the bush for an instant vitamin C boost. Chewing on small amounts of fermented leaves is said to help with insomnia, while the stems and leaves can be brewed and used to help with the symptoms of stomach ache and colds and flu.  

Identifying features: A stri-king plant when flowering; the Skilpadbessie is a rounded shrub that grows to about a metre high. It has small, narrow leaves and purple, pink, or white flowers when in bloom. The flowers are similar to those of the pea family, but the Skilpadbessie bears bright red berries, rather than leguminous fruit.

Wild Rosemary (Eriocephalus africanus)

Julie-2015-tuin-4Wild Rosemary, also known as kapokbos, can be used in much the same way as its more commercial cousin. Wild rosemary has also traditionally been used in medicinal ways. A wild rosemary tea can help with colds, coughs and colic, while the dried plant works outstandingly well in potpourri.

Identifying features: Bushy evergreen shrubs with a silvery appearance. Needle shaped leaves arranged in tufts along the branches, with tiny silvery hairs covering the leaves. Flowers are a composition of purple disc florets in the centre and white ray florets on the outside.

Bruinsalie (Salvia africana-lutea)

Julie-2015-tuin-5Also known as beach salvia, dune salvia, golden salvia or geelblomsalie. Bruinsalie can be used in a similar way to sage and adds a spicy flavour to stews and salads. Apart from its culinary uses and attracting wildlife, brown sage also makes an excellent tea for coughs, colds and female ailments and works well in potpourri.

Identifying features: Bruinsalie is a hardy shrub with bright yellow flowers that turn brownish after a while. The entire sage family is characterised by square stems and aromatic leaves.

Buchu (Agathosma glabrata)

Julie-2015-tuin-6Buchu leaves have long been used to make tea which helps with the treatment of bladder and urinary tract problems, as well as for stomach aches, joint pain, and colds and flu.
Identifying features: A single-stemmed shrub that grows to around 1m high and has big clusters of purple, white or pink flowers. The small leaves have tiny oil glands present, which release a somewhat sweet, somewhat pungent scent.

NOTE: Because buchu contains pulegone, a known liver toxin, the herb should be used only with great caution and not by young children, pregnant or nursing women, or people with liver disease.

Sorrel (Oxalis)

Julie-2015-tuin-7Considered a weed by many, sorrel has a sour, lemony taste, but works well in salads, soups and tarts. The name Oxalis, comes from the Greek oxis, meaning acid, referring to the sour tasting stems. Sorrel is very high in vitamins A and C, as well as iron, but should be eaten in limited quantities.

Identifying features: Sorrel is a low-growing perennial, with roughly heart-shaped and usually trifoliolate leaves.

Inheemse malva (Pelargonium cucullatum)

Julie-2015-tuin-8This pelargonium can be used medicinally to cure colic, kidney ailments, diarrhoea, coughs and fevers, as well as for bruises, stings and abscesses. Extract is often used in beauty creams and skin treatments. The flowers are edible and can be used in salads and desserts, while syrup can be extracted from the leaves.

Identifying features: A tall, sprawling, branched shrub that grows to a height of more than 2 meters. Leaves are cupped and round, or kidney-shaped and cupped, with a reddish tip. Both the stems and leaves are hairy. Flowers range from dark to light mauve, or pink and white with purple veins.

Spekboom (Pelargonium cucullatum)

Julie-2015-tuin-9Spekboom, also known as Porkbush, Elephants Food and iNtelezi (Zulu), are today found in many gardens, and also grow freely in the wild. The leaves are edible and have a sour or tart flavour, which works well in stews and bredies. Traditionally the leaves were used to quench thirst and treat dehydration and heat stroke. Crushed leaves can also be rubbed on blisters for instant relief, and used for various skin ailments, including sunburn.

Identifying features: An evergreen succulent shrub, with small round succulent leaves and red stems. Flowers are small, star-shaped and pink.